ince the U.S. presidential election, I’ve been trying to understand. Understand the American spirit. Understand the common bonds of our nation — how we’re linked to each other as individuals and in groups.
I’ve been on the phone a lot. Everyone wants to talk. Everyone I know is engaged in a communal head-scratch and gut check. And we’re all trying to stay optimistic. Most days it’s hard.
On mornings since the election, I sit by my window. I can’t bear to read the news. I know it takes me into a confused and troubled sphere and that’s no place to live for long. Instead, I look to eternal things, and by that I don’t mean falling back into religion.
I mean the sky. Literally. The clouds passing by, the moon rising.
Today the wind was brisk and white puffs moved across my window with speed and ferocity. A few pigeons rose up then landed on the steeple of the building across the street. They pulled in their wings and huddled together, shaking.
Looking further into the distance, the sky somehow held up an airplane, which this morning seemed to me a miracle. Little things. I laughed thinking of the people inside jockeying for overhead storage bins and trying to take control of armrests. We’re so small here and the sky is so vast.
When a friend spoke to me dismayed about how winter brought about the sort of darkness that intensified her grey mood, I begged her to look up into sky. This is the time to enjoy the stars. To contemplate both the vastness of space and appreciate how far light itself has traveled to reach us. Be amazed that the star itself is gone, burned out long ago.
The sky has given us all memories to calm us and set us dreaming.
I remember my first meteor shower. I lived in Seattle at the time and my friends and I drove into the Cascade Mountains. After several hours, we pulled over onto a gravel road and lay on the hood of the car. Covered in blankets, we wished. And we wished some more. And the stars heard us. They fell and streaked in a display so spectacular we expected stardust to daub our faces.
Wonder was the word. And we drove back to our homes forever changed. We knew what we always knew but the night made clear: we were insignificant in the grand scheme of earth and planets and the pull of tides and waves. This insignificance elated us. It let us know our worries and concerns were only synapses firing in the hard case of our head. Looking up cleared our heavy thoughts like a good dusting, like shaking a rug into the air.
I was recently in the American Southwest. In the great Chihuahua desert, the sky speaks particularly loudly. Even the earth itself is dwarfed by its expanse. The sun is a glorious chariot riding across it. The full moon lights dark canyons and coyotes howl and call. How wonderful to be linked to this land like the coyote and snake, the roadrunner, I thought.
Maudlin, you may say. But it’s not at all. These are the recognitions that allow you to realize that your frontal lobe has betrayed you. In my case I’ve been somehow convinced I’m an elevated human directed only by executive functions. How easy it is to forget everything in New York City.
Forget that you’re linked to this land, this earth, like these creatures; that you’re animal as surely as they are. The territory you protect, the instinct to strike out and howl, the need to curl up in a cave.
Yes, the election has brought out these aspects. For all my fancy thoughts, I am simply animal, feral and wild. I am the pigeon huddling with a friend in the brisk wind of our times. And one day I too will be part of the sky. Simply insignificant, just dust returning to the eternal.